16 NOVEMBER 1907, Page 22


WE wish it were possible to obtain the real opinion of the more thoughtful Liberals upon the Prime Minister's speech at Bristol. Unless we are greatly mis- taken, that opinion would be anything but complimentary. We cannot imagine any man of independent judgment, or with the capacity for clear thinking, hearing or reading that speech without a sense of deep disappointment— nay, indeed, of humiliation—so empty, so unreal, and so futile was its tone. The political claptrap and conven- tionality with which it bristles positively crackle like the sere leaves in a winter hedgerow. The only part of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's speech which has any reality is that in which he repeated Mr. Asquith's questions to the Tariff Reformers. These questions are altogether pertinent, and it is perfectly right that they should be put forward on behalf of the Government. But though we have no quarrel; but rather the reverse, with Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman when he says : " You say that you must broaden the basis of taxation and you must give Preference to the Colonies. How are You going to do it ? Are you going to tax corn ? Are you going to tax meat ? Are you going to tax butter ? "- we must remind the Prime Minister that the asking of questions is a game which two can play at. For ourselves, we have for the last year and a quarter been very anxious to ask Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman some questions, and we trust that he will not follow the example of the Opposition leaders and refuse to answer them.

To begin with, we will say to Sir Henry : " You say that you are in favour of non-contributory old- age pensions, that any scheme must be universal in its application, and that ' it must be done by the State, which alone has the money' ; and you acquiesced. in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement that the question was one of extreme urgency. How are you going to do it ? Are you going to put on a tariff ? If not, are you going to increase the taxes on sugar, tobacco, and tea ? If not, are you going to double the Iiicome-tax and the Death-duties to get the money " Again : " You say—and here we hold you to be absolutely right—that there is no necessity for broadening the basis of taxation, and that the phrase is only an alias for Tariff Reform. But if you are not going, to broaden the basis of taxation, how do you propose to get the thirty millions you will ultimately require for old-age pensions'?" "If you say that the instalment of old-age pensions which you mean to give will only cost some ten millions a year, then we ask you whether you really think it will be safe to leave to your successors in office the task of finding the money for the necessary and inevitable developments that must follow your instalment ? "

Possibly the Prime Minister will say in answer to this last question that he cannot be made responsible for what others may do, that his intentions are absolutely pure in the matter, and that he would never consent to obtain old-age pensions by means of a tariff or any increase of indirect taxation. If that is the line of argument, then we cannot answer it better than by Sir Henry's own words in his speech of Wednesday. " We Free-traders are, plain people, and we must judge of a, scheme like this, not by the intention of those who put it forward, but by its probable results." If that, as he seems to think and as we agree, is a good enough answer to the Tariff Reform proposals for broadening taxation, it is, we hold, a good enough answer also to his mischievous proposals for universal non-contributory pensions.

The Prime Minister tell us in the next sentence to that just quoted : "You cannot afford to play with a little Protection any more than with a little contagious disease, and you will find that if once the contagion of Protection creeps in, the privilege, incidental or consequential, given for one industry will be claimed for another and another and yet another, will be exercised to enlarge these small privileges into great ones, and the revenue will soon be forgotten in the scramble for trade advantages." With these words we are in profound agreement ; but we would. beg Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman to note that if he will substitute for the words "a little Protection" the • words " a little Socialism," he will find that the sense is in no way impaired. Let us recommend to him the considera- tion of yet another phrase from his Bristol speech. "It is extraordinary how they ignore the experience of the past., these dreamers for the future." Has this " dreamer for the future," we wonder, ever taken the trouble to read the Report of the Poor Law Commission of 1834 ? If not, we respectfully advise it as reading for the Christmas holidays. There he will find the experience of the past upon the fundamental principles involved in such proposals as old-age pensions, the provision for the un- employed by the State, and the feeding of school- children by the State set forth in no uncertain language. The old Poor Law admitted " the right to work," or its equivalent, " the right to wages," the right of a man to have his children supported by the State if he did not find it convenient to support them himself, and the right to a provision for old age for all who cared to claim it, with the result of widespread ruin, moral and economic. An appeal to the experience of the past will never be dreaded by any true Free-trader,—and by a true Free- trader we mean a man who does not shut Free-trade up into a water-tight compartment, but applies it to other matters than oversee commerce.

We should. have to reprint Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman's speech bodily if we were to extract from it all the passages which fall like a boomerang on his own head. We must, however, indulge in one more quotation. " I should like to see," he says, " a sketch Budget where the money was to come from." Those are exactly our sentiments. Nothing would please us more than to see a sketch Budget showing where the ultimate cost of universal non-contributory old- age pensions is to come from. It is all very well for Mr. Asquith, instead of paying off more Debt or reducing taxation, to earmark two or three millions of surplus in a good year as an old-age pensions fund, but what we want to see is the sketch Budget for raising the money required, not for-an instalment, but for the finished scheme, applied as the Labour Party mean it shall be applied if they accept it at all. Depend upon it, that sketch Budget will either be utterly unworkable through the intolerable burden which it will lay upon the middle class, or else it will, whatever the intention may be, contain the seeds of prettatipli. Here again we find in Sir Henry Campbell- 13441ernian'e ern words the best refutation we eau give of his own policy. f' So king as we hold fast to Free-trade, se low as we pee that the incidence of our taxes is such that the burden is apportioned to the shoulders that bear it, and so long as we set our face against. extravagance in every department of national finance, we need not be under the apprehensien that our fiscal system will fail us." That is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But is it not astonishing that a statesman who has pledged himself next.year to enter upon a course of expenditure so vast and reckless. as that involved in old-age pensions should have the hardihood to advance such a proposition ? Onquestionably Free-trade can only survive if we keep our euenditure within reasonable limits, and " set our face against extravagance in every department of national finanee " ; but what are we to think of those who make such words a prelude to the greatest commitment in the matter of civil expenditure ever suggested in this country ?

. The emptiness and unreality of Sir Henry Campbell- Bannerman's method of dealing with the questions of Free-trade and taxation are fully matched in what he had to say as to the House of Lords. For instance, he tells us in a. passage of ironic scorn that the seat of power resides neither in the Crown nor in the people, but in the House of Lords. " That is the lesson we have learned since the beginning of 1906." Yet when it is suggested to the Prime Minister and his party that the will of the majority as expressed by a poll of the people should be made to decide between the two Houses of Parliament, he will have none of it, and shrinks from admitting where the seat of power really resides. What, again, could be more jejune than his attack upon the House of Lords in regard to the Education Bill ? As our readers know, we were anxious that the Bill should pass into law, and had the Govern- ment, instead of acquiescing in its destruction, reintroduced it a fortnight or three weeks after its rejection, and sent it up once more to the House of Lords, we should have supported them in that course of action. But, as it was, they refused to do anything of the kind,—a positive proof that the ultimate. loss of the Bill was due not so much to the Lords as to the fact that the majority of the Commons did not believe in the measure as it stood, and were not prepared to force it upon the Peers. That this is so has been instinctively realised by the country, and the Liberal Party has never attempted to base a, serious aaitation against the Peers on the rejection of the Education Bill.

Even more sophistical and unreal was the Prime Minister's attack on the Lords for throwing out the Bill abolishing plural voting. He forgets to mention that the Peers would have been prepared to pass that Bill had it been an honest piece of electoral reform, and had it included " One vote one value." When the Government asked them to correct electoral anomalies -which were injurious to one party in the State, but to maintain those which were beneficial to that party, the House of Lords most rightly refused their assent to a peculiarly impudent piece of party electioneering. In their refusal they have been supported by the country, which fully realises. that the greatest electoral scandal now in existence is the over-representation of Ireland and the under-representation of England, and that this scandal will never be abated by the present Government unless it is linked with the proposals for electoral reform which happen to suit the Liberal Party. Sir H. Campbell- Bannerman s attempt to raise prejudice against the House of Lords over the rejection of a measure so peculiarly bad and unworkable as the Scottish Small Holdings Bill need not detain us. That Bill may be safely left where Lord Rosebery buried it,—that is, under a mound of irrefutable argument. In truth, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's treatment of the whole question of the House. of Lords was defaced by the poorest special pleading and the merest party claptrap. One feels, indeed, astonishment that he was not ashamed to address a cultivated audience such as that which assembles ,at the Colston Banquets with [inch sorry substitutes for argument as he used in dealing with the problem of a Second Chamber. We may point opt in this context that the use of party claptrap is no more justified when it is Mr. Chamberlain's claptrap which is employed than when it is the speaker's own. , A foolish &raiment is not less foolish when used . by .a political opponent, and the fact that Mr. Chamberlain in his Radical days talked nonsense about the House of Lords does not advance a true settlement of the question by one hair's- breadth.

If the Prime Minister's speech was empty and unreal in dealing with the Fiscal issue and the problem of the House of Lords, what are we say of his treatment of Socialism ? We are anxious not to say anything disrespectful of one who, we are sure, means so well as the Prime Minister does —and who, we greatly regret to see, is at the moment a victim of overwork—but his handling of this matter tempts us to use the American phrase and to describe it as " the limit." One would hardly have thought it possible that a man of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's standing and experience could have found anything so threadbare and inadequate to say upon a subject so grave and so urgent.